Dear John,

So, I’m working on my novel. I really am. (This, in part, explains a certain amount of slacking off chez this particular blog.) The past few weeks, my office purge/organization has been mirrored by a purge/organization of the manuscript. It’s actually shorter now, because I’ve been killing the babies (God, I love that term): that is, ruthlessly cutting out all the scenes and subplots that no longer actually fit. Of course, I don’t delete them outright (because who knows what genius lies in my every paragraph? This is not for me to judge.) but simply move them to a different folder, a purgatorial kind of file that is the holding place for all those unborn scenes that will never see the light. Pray for them.

And now I am going through what remains, figuring out what blanks need to be filled (and, oh my, are there blanks that to be filled … vast chasms of blanks) and what should go in those blanks. Among other things.

To help, I’m working through John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. It’s a good guide thus far, immensely practical and useful in that it forces me to articulate in concrete terms exactly what this story is about, its premise, its structure, the logical, organic arc of the narrative. Et cetera.

Except I just read this passage, right there on page 40:

From the very beginning of the story, your hero has one or more great weaknesses that are holding him back. Something is missing within him that is so profound, it is ruining his life (I’m going to assume that the main character is male, simply because it’s easier for me to write that way).

And now I’m all pissed off.

John.

John.

John! Come on, buddy.

John, you just spent an entire chapter explaining grouchily to me that “Most writers don’t use the best process for creating a story. They use the easiest one.” Taking the easy way out, you explain, is a surefire way to writing an external, mechanical, piecemeal, generic, and lazy story. One that doesn’t work. Rather than relying on tired assumptions and clichés, you tell us, the so-called “Truby method” is successful because it is “internal, organic, interconnected, and original. I must warn you right up front,” you say: “this process isn’t easy. But I believe that this approach, or some variant of it, is the only one that really works. And it can be learned.”

So John, I’ve got to ask you: why take the easy way out? Why assume that, when it comes to your own writing, that the tired old way of seeing the world from the universal male viewpoint is still acceptable? Because I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. I’m here to tell you that slightly more than half the world does not see the world from “the male hero’s” point of view. I’m here to tell you that lots and lots of women want to — and do — write, and that a thousand times more women than that read their writing, and as far as they’re concerned, “he” is not an acceptable, generic substitute for “she.” Even if it is easier for you to write that way.

Further, I’d like to let you know that as the mother of two young boys, I have a hard enough time finding kids’ books that don’t automatically assume that the main character is male. My kids love to read, and they love to be read to, and they are lucky enough to have shelves full of books, crammed with books, wonderful books that, collectively, share one major flaw: the vast majority of them are told from the viewpoint of that so-called universal male character. When I read aloud, I constantly change pronouns in an effort to reflect my kids the real gender divide of the world, not the false one that so many writers — you included — choose to depict instead.

Is it so hard, really, John, to write “he or she”? Is it so hard to alternate between gendered pronouns? Wait, I’ll answer that question for you: it isn’t. Is it so hard to imagine that there might be a generic heroine rather than hero? Not really — I’ve been doing it for pretty much my entire writing life, which started in first grade. I think you can do it too, John. It can be learned. As you say, right there on page 5, “I believe it can be done, but it requires that we think and talk about story differently than in the past.”

So, John, how about it? How about, for the sake of your readers, for the sake of my kids, trying to think differently than your predecessors? It doesn’t require a huge shift in thinking on your part, but if every author made that shift, if every author refused to take the easy way out when it came to thinking about just who gets to be a hero and who doesn’t in terms of gender, the collective results would be profound.

Love,

Susan

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